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Debate – Slashers Vs Psychological Horrors


Posted September 28, 2011 by

Slashers Vs Psychological Horrors

This subject generates many different opinions, and remains one of the more common topics of debate in film. Before beginning, it is important that the definition of a Slasher and a Psychological Horror are understood, in order to establish the reasons why each create fear within the horror genre.

Horror, alongside comedy, drama and action, is one of the most popular genres in cinema – and while it has an extensive amount of subgenres; Slashers and Psychological Horrors are considered to be the two most common types.

A Slasher is a horror film centered on ‘gore’. The basic narrative usually revolves around a leading protagonist killing or hunting a group of characters, usually for sadistic fun, resulting in a series of gruesome deaths or tortures designed to shock a viewer. A Psychological Horror on the other hand is a horror that focuses around the psychosomatic effect fear can have on a person. The narratives can vary, but is always designed to frighten the viewer by working upon the many basic fears that we experience. They often contain scenes that scare without the use of gore, and instead impose sinister imagery.

It is of course common that the ‘Psychological Horror’ and ‘Slasher’ genres will intertwine to some extent. However, it is usually easy to identify generally which category a given film will fall in to. For example, ‘The Ring’, ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Blair Witch Project’ are examples of Psychological Horros, whereas ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, ‘Friday The 13th’ and ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ are examples of Slashers.

But what is it that makes these frightening? And which is considered to provoke more fear?

A Slasher horror generates fear by forcing the viewer to sit through experiences in which we would never hope to find ourselves. When we watch a film it provides us with a level of escapism. Therefore to become involved with the narrative where the characters that we relate to are being murdered or tortured, causes us to empathise with what they are experiencing, thus generating the fear.

Psychological Horror son the other hand play on our mental, supernatural and exaggerated fears. Throughout such a film we are expecting to be scared, therefore our receivership of something that is meant to be frightening is heightened and a strong sense of suspense and fear of the unknown is apparent. When the protagonist in the film is, for example, a ghost, demon or monster, it is using elements we have grown to fear from childhood, again forcing us to escape to a narrative that we wish to never experience in real life.

When we watch a Slasher horror the aim is more to disturb and shock the viewer. The fear comes from hoping the situation you are consuming also never happens to you in reality. A Psychological Horror is different because it aims to actually psychologically scare the viewer, rather than just disturb. Slashers work by using the shocking scenes of gore and torture, whereas Psychological Thrillers utilize techniques to generate the afore-mentioned suspense. This would include effects such as lighting, mise-en-scene, editing and sound, and while these are still important in a Slasher, it is these cinematic traits that work together in a particular way to create the psychosomatic fear that makes a Psychological Horror work.

The question is, ‘Which is more frightening?’ It could be argued that the Psychological Horror succeeds here because it generates an effect which plays on our innermost fears. However, on the other hand, it could be said that the shock value a Slasher offers is more realistic and therefore more frightening.

While a Psychological Horror might frighten you more as you watch it, it is common that the fear generated is lost afterwards due to the lack of realism. Of course certain famous Psychological Thrillers are exempt from this rule. For example ‘The Exorcist’ became famous because it was the first Psychological Horror of its kind and the fear generated throughout remained. However in a strange way many begin to fear the film, rather than the narrative coming to life.

A Slasher however is likely to disturb you for a longer time – For example, the famous scene from ‘Saw’ where one of the leading characters is forced to amputate his own foot has become one of the most talked about scenes in cinema.

As previously stated, this debate is largely based upon personal opinions and fears. On a personal level, I find Psychological Horrors more frightening than Slashers, probably due to my superstitious tendencies and overactive imagination.


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    Kevin Crighton

    For me, Slasher films aren’t that scary. They can make you jump in your seat at times, but any film can do that, if they get the set-up and timing right, for example, the bus scene in Final Destination, or the death of a major character in The Departed. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them, it’s just I don’t get scared.

    However, films that create atmosphere and a sense of dread, such as The Blair Witch Project, Ringu, or older films such as The Changeling are often, if they get it right, downright terrifying.

    One of my all time favourite horror films is The Exorcist III. I’m in the minority in that I find it a scarier film than the original Exorcist. The main reason I do find it scary is that it does create a sense of dread running through the film. It also contains a sequence that would actually would fit into a Slasher film, involving a nurse and a hospital corridor that is terrifying. I think the reason it is, is the sense of dread that’s already built up in the film, making what will happen even ore scary. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever been in a cinema and heard actual screaming. If that scene had taken place in a typical slasher film, I think it might still be scary, but without the built up atmosphere of dread it wouldn’t have the same effect.


    Psychological horrors are scarier (and thus more interesting) to me. They stay with me years after I’ve watched them. I too have an overactive imagination so that probably adds to the horror. It’s as if the director and writer of the psychological horror enlist you as part of the crew and let you create your own personal version of what they have hinted at in the movie. Scary!

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